2019 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe review: One last spin in the M4-beater
The dawdling semi truck goes straight rather than right, meaning I've got the on-ramp to myself. Time to downshift to second, floor the throttle and unleash all 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque. When shift lights appear in the head-up display, I shove the precise shifter into third and keep building speed. Yes, even such a mundane operation as merging onto I-275 feels downright heroic at full throttle in the Cadillac ATS-V. It's a car that delivers as much driving pleasure as outright performance. That's why I've loved it so much -- and why I'm saddened the ATS-V is to be no more.
The ATS-V has been on sale for some time and changes for the 2019 model year are few: the sedan is no longer offered, while the coupe now comes with the Carbon Fiber Package visual upgrade as standard. Above all, we know that this car's time is up, meaning this is my last chance to enjoy Cadillac's German sports-coupe fighter.
That powerful engine helps define the ATS-V's aggressive character. Like most of its rivals, the Cadillac uses a six-cylinder mill augmented by a pair of turbochargers, in this case a V6 displacing 3.6 liters. Cadillac says the car gets to 60 miles per hour in 3.8 seconds and goes on to a top speed of 189 mph. Those figures are right on par with the likes of the Audi RS5 (3.7 seconds, thanks in part to all-wheel drive), BMW M4 manual (4.1 seconds) and Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe (3.8 seconds). A claimed top speed of 189 miles per hour makes the Cadillac faster than all those cars.
While it lacks the meaty burble of the C63's V8, the Caddy's engine still makes great noises, purring around town and clamoring ever louder as revs build. It's effortlessly responsive, with right-now power in any gear.
The whole experience is made even better by the six-speed manual transmission -- and not only because this is one of just two cars in its class offered with a shift-it-yourself arrangement. The shift action is direct and just weighty enough to satisfy without being a chore in traffic. An automatic rev-match function is available at the push of a steering-wheel paddle, but really, the gearbox and pedals are so well arrayed for sporty driving that you'll want to do all the engine-blipping yourself.
Involving yet forgiving chassis
The other half of the ATS-V's fun-to-drive equation is the way that it keeps its flypaperlike Pirelli Super Sport tires on the road. For all its race-track capability, it's hugely approachable on the road. Power out of a turn on a damp, cold afternoon, for instance, and the rear end will slither and wriggle, not snap. It makes for a performance car that can actually be used aggressively on the road. And the adaptive suspension is remarkably not-punishing on crummy roads, despite squelching body roll when driven hard.
Much praise must also go to the electronic differential and Cadillac's clever traction control, which doles out horsepower in the perfect quantity on the road. It allows for injudicious applications of turbo boost with an ease not possible in, say, the twitchy and nervous M4. For track use, there are also five specific "Performance Traction Management" modes, as well as electronic launch control and a no-lift shifting feature.
Perhaps the best bit of the ATS-V driving experience is its just-right steering setup. The ratio is quick, but it's not so sharp as to be twitchy off-center. And unlike many rivals, you get a novel's worth of feedback through the leather-wrapped rim. That'll pay dividends on a road course, sure, but it's essential to upping the engagement factory of more quotidian street drives.
Above all, Cadillac's sporty coupe looks the business, too, with flared fenders, a gaping grille aperture, big exhaust outlets and a big V-shaped spoiler atop the trunk lid. With optional black wheels and bronze brake calipers contrasting against the new Wave Metallic blue paint, this ATS-V screams aggression from every angle. Likewise inside, suede, Alcantara, carbon fiber and Recaro seats dress up the cabin. Those racy bits help distract from some of the less-expensive and dull plastics that are dotted throughout the car's interior.
Competent in-car technology
Since we last reviewed the ATS-V, Cadillac has equipped it with an updated version of the Cadillac User Interface (CUE) infotainment system. Straight away, the new system is easier and better to use than early CUE-equipped Cadillacs, with prompter responses to inputs on its 8-inch touchscreen. There are also advanced features like cloud-syncing for multiple driver profiles and "smart" navigation routing that can "learn" your typical commutes.
CUE also features satellite radio, Bluetooth and navigation integration, as well Wi-Fi and support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Swapping between screens and functions is easy enough, though the only physical shortcut is a home button; some rival cars offer hard buttons to jump to, say, the radio or phone interface. CUE also had some trouble working reliably with my smartphone over Bluetooth, an issue I haven't had with that phone on any other recent test car.
To keep gadgets charged, you'll find two USB ports in the small-ish center console, as well as a wireless phone charging pad inside the electrically-opening center stack compartment. Touch lightly on the bottom edge of a panel on the stack and it motors open, revealing the charge pad.
Ahead of the driver, the Cadillac ATS-V's instrument cluster uses mostly analog gauges, which are highly legible with their red illumination but, sadly, not as slick-looking as rivals'. At the bottom is a reconfigurable color trip computer with three segments of information that can be configured to display everything from tire temperature to boost pressure. I set them up with the distance-to-empty on one side, the vehicle's speed in the center and tire pressures on the other bookend. A color head-up display provides speed, tachometer and even shift-light information at a glance.
Safety tech is plentiful on my test car, though it's worth noting that much of it is available only as part of paid option packages. Still, this ATS-V coupe has parking sensors, precollision warning, automatic headlights, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and, somewhat unusually, even an option in the cluster that can tell you how close you're following another car, measured in seconds. Most of those are bundled into the $1,800 Safety and Security package, which also includes an upgraded alarm.
Not so great on the practicality front
In terms of everyday usability, the ATS-V coupe struggles a bit in terms of trunk capacity. Though, to be fair, 10.4 cubic feet isn't that bad for the class when you note that the Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe offers only 10.5 cubic feet in its trunk and the Audi RS 5 boasts just 11.6. At least you can fold down the back seats should you need to carry bulkier objects.
Speaking of those rear seats, they're notably cramped -- even allowing for this being a sporty two-door car. Access to the rear is tight, and once installed, passengers will find legroom practically non-existent and headroom in short reserve. Use these seats for extra luggage space only.
Another area where the ATS-V lags behind its rivals is fuel economy, with this manual-transmission model EPA-rated for 16 miles per gallon city, 23 miles per gallon highway and 19 miles per gallon combined. That's a smidge behind competitors, with the AMG C63 S Coupe boasting 18/24 mpg, the RS5 offering 18/26 mpg and the manual-transmission M4 good for 17/25 mpg.
Worth the price of admission
A 2019 Cadillac ATS-V coupe starts at $68,790 with destination. That's versus the $70,145 starting price of an M4, the $70,875 you'll pay for an RS5 and the $68,495 for the C63 Coupe or $76,495 for the C63 S.
On top of that base price, my test car added $2,300 for Recaro front seats, $1,800 for the Safety and Security package, $2,100 for the Luxury package, $1,295 for a glossy carbon-fiber engine cover, $625 for the new-for-2019 Wave Metallic paint color, $600 for black wheels, $595 for bronze-colored brake calipers, $495 for a blacked-out front grille and $175 to darken the rear chrome trim. All-in, it's $78,775. If you wanted to add the eight-speed automatic transmission, that would cost an extra $2,000.
Buying the ATS-V also scores you two days of free on-track driving instruction at the V-Performance Academy, held at Spring Mountain Motorsport Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada. If you're buying a performance car, you owe it to yourself to learn how to fully exploit it, especially when the track time comes free.
The ATS-V proved that Cadillac could build a sports coupe that matched or even beat the best performers from Germany. It put a grin on my face every time I got behind the wheel -- coupe or sedan, automatic or manual. Nobody would ever argue that the Cadillac ATS-V was the perfect car in its class, for all the negatives I've griped about thus far. But I really don't care about its so-so practicality: the ATS-V is a fantastic car that I'd be happy to wake up to every day.
Let's just hope Cadillac builds another sports coupe that's this good in the future.